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Ketchum’s Rob Flaherty: ‘Our Business is All About Change’

The press release announcing the leadership changes at Ketchum described the appointments as part of a transition for the company. But if you ask the firm’s top two execs, change is always and ongoing.

“Our business is all about change, so if you’re not changing you’re not moving a service firm of any kind forward,” the soon-to-be CEO Rob Flaherty told us on the phone today. “I think a good service firm develops a percentage of their services as new services every year.”

Rather than a total re-imagining, Flaherty described the investments that the firm has made in things like “global integration,” the continuing efforts to provide top-notch analytics to take full advantage of the information that comes with big data, and an evolving agency culture that emphasizes things like in-person interaction so the team “can mobilize quickly.”

Describing the CEO role, current CEO (for the next few days before he becomes chairman), Ray Kotcher said, “Change is a good thing. It’s my responsibility to make sure that we continue to change and evolve and, most importantly, keep the vigor and vitality and even take it a step further.”

At the same time, both execs say there are things that should stay the same. For example, Kotcher says the much of the senior leadership team has been with the firm for a long time. “I think the newest member of our executive leadership team has been working here for nine years.” So there is continuity.

Moreover, no matter how big you get, you work with clients. Flaherty described a morning that included a global conference call to talk about the new appointments and then a client meeting. Kotcher attributes the firm’s high level of client retention on the client service offered by everyone at all titles, saying that regular surveys of clients and staffers places client service at the top of the list of priorities for everyone.

More than that, Flaherty says creating services for clients that build relationships with customers is an opportunity for growth that the firm would like to seize. “Radical transparency,” the constant stream of feedback that customers give on social media, is the reason.

“Clients are very interested in shaping the experience,” said Flaherty. “We see a lot of opportunity in our discipline to advise on the experience as much as the words. Think of it as communications and messaging to analyze the gap between the promise and your experience. Reality is everything these days.”

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